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CHRISTOLOGY IN RETREAT: NIEMOLLER’S POEM

April 6, 2017

CHRISTOLOGY IN RETREAT: NIEMÖLLER’S POEM:

DEAR FRIENDS:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the incurable patients, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not an incurable patient

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Pastor Martin Niemöller was a member of the anti-Nazi Confessional  Church (founded by Dietrich Bonhoeffer), and suffered prison at the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. However, he always felt a lingering sense of guilt at what he regarded as his insufficient public opposition to Hitler’s regime and his murderous Holocaust. Shortly after the war (1946. 1952?) he wrote the poem quoted above.

Niemöller’s guilt-ridden, yet hope-filled insight is remarkably prophetic for our times. The victims are different, the horror, the racism and the xenophobia are the same:

“First, they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Mexican.”

“Then, they came for the Guatemalans, and I did not speak out, because I am not a Guatemalan.”

“Then they came for the Syrians, and I did not speak out, because I am not a Syrian.”

“Then they came for all the Muslims, and I did not speak out, because I am not a Muslim.”

“Then they came for all those who were not Mexicans, Guatemalans, Syrians, or Muslims, but who dared advocate the Gospel of justice, love and compassion on their behalf, and I did not speak out, because I felt the Gospel of justice, love and compassion was too dangerous and subversive, and I chose to attend my 10 AM Mass every Sunday, and remain safe.”          “Finally, they came for me, and there were no more victims left to support me, embrace me and pray with me.”

Niemöller, after all, was simply defining the social, public, passionate, subversive implications of Mt 25: 31-46: “For I was hungry . . .  for I was an alien . . . ” – It is the public confession that Luke places in Mary’s lips: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (Lk 1: 51-53).

In our times, Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande, the martyrs of El Salvador, dared to speak out on behalf of the poor, the indigenous peoples, the discarded, the persecuted, and paid the price all true prophets eventually pay. Pope Francis has drawn the wrath of many among the powerful and wealthy (many of whom are parish Catholics) for sighing: “I wish a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). Dom Helder Camara prophesized along the lines of Romero and Niemöller when he said: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Sooner or later, “they” will come for us – We will be called to take a stand, to give witness to the fullness of our Christian faith, to our fidelity to the Gospel of justice and compassion. The consequences for saying “Yes” may be dire – not, of course, Auschwitz, Treblinka, or Buchenwald (or so I hope – after all, Sheriff Joe’s camps in Arizona, where the undocumented are held, are notorious), but ridicule, isolation, rejection – perhaps jail, perhaps death – THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED: the brutal, lethal bludgeoning of 18-year old Onesimo López Ramos, a Guatemalan migrant, at the hands of the three white self-styled “Guat Hunters,” on April 18, 2015, still rings on the souls of all those whose hearts bleed for the crucified of history – Onésimo could not hide his indigenous identity – it was too evident, as was evident, for other reasons, the identity of the Jewish communities in Nazi Germany. The culpable silence of German Christendom had deadly consequences.

And so does, indeed, the silence of the South Florida church face-to-face with Onésimo´s murder, which, with the exception of a handful (and I mean, a handful) of priests, deacons, and committed laity, kept silent, DID NOT SPEAK OUT, against this atrocity –Their silence echoes that of the majority of Christians in Nazi Germany, who remained silent, did not speak out, when their Jewish neighbors where carted off to the camps

The inconvenient, perturbing, subversive question lingers: When “they” come for those who are held to be dangerous, superfluous, a burden to society, a threat to “public safety,” those who look too “foreign,” too indigenous, too mestizo, too beholden to “un-American” religions, too radically powerless, will we speak out? Will we simply say: “I am not (fill in: Guatemalan, Mexican, Syrian, Muslim), I go to the 10 AM Mass on Sundays, I am a good Catholic and do not get involved in ‘political’ issues,” and thereby allow the landscape to be “cleansed” of the “undesirables,” until “they” turn their gaze, notice me, and come for me?

OREMUS PRO INVICEM

 

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